Halfway through his first session with the MVP foundation, Dustin Holcomb—who left the U.S. Army after being hit by a roadside bomb—broke down. “I started crying right there,” he recalls. “Guys I’ve never met before are putting their arms around me. It was crazy to think of how long I’d gone without that camaraderie.”
In a sense, inside that circle of 60 or 70 people at Jay Glazer’s Unbreakable gym, Holcomb’s experience of trauma and recovery was completely normal. He was surrounded, after all, by a group of fellow veterans and former professional athletes who are part of one of the strongest support systems available to men and women of their kind.
Glazer and Nate Boyer—a U.S. Army Green Beret turned walk-on long snapper at the University of Texas—conceived MVP, or Merging Vets & Players, in 2015. Their organization, which brings members together for regular group sessions, was founded on the premise that ex-soldiers and ex-pro athletes share a common bond as people who have done incredible things but who often struggle to adjust to daily life afterward. MVP attracts a broad range of vets and athletes to its weekly sessions, which generally consist of a warm-up and a 45-minute workout followed by therapeutic group conversations. “We get that sweat going and get everyone to feel vulnerable so they open up,” says Boyer. “It breaks down uncomfortable walls.”
Glazer and Boyer’s intuition has proved to be spot-on. Several members credit MVP with helping them turn around—if not save—their lives. Denver Morris, a former infantryman, moved out of a homeless shelter and regained the confidence to go places alone again. Former door gunner Kirstie Ennis, who endured 45 surgeries after a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, has gone on to be a world-class athlete and the 2019 winner of ESPN’s Pat Tillman Award. For David Rendon, MVP enabled him to quit the doctor-prescribed opiates he had become addicted to and find his way. “I was a walking zombie,” Rendon says. “This has given me a new life. Purpose. Something to be proud of again.” For Glazer and Boyer, their mission with MVP is far from complete. Their goal is to have an outpost in every major American city; already there’s Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, and, soon, New York City. At sessions in West Hollywood and elsewhere, the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Ryan Leaf, and Randy Couture are likely to show up for the workouts and chats. Still, according to Holcomb, the person whose attendance gets everyone the most excited is Glazer. “He is that force of nature just driving this thing.”